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Int Immunopharmacol. 2003 Mar;3(3):319-28.

Vascular permeability enhancement in solid tumor: various factors, mechanisms involved and its implications.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, Kumamoto University School of Medicine, Honjo 2-2-1, Kumamoto 860-0811, Japan.


Most solid tumors are known to exhibit highly enhanced vascular permeability, similar to or more than the inflammatory tissues. Common denominators affecting both cancer and inflammatory lesions are now well known: bradykinin (BK), nitric oxide (NO), peroxynitrite (ONOO(-)), prostaglandins (PGs), collagenases or matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and others. Incidentally, enzymes involved in these mediator syntheses are upregulated or activated. Initially described vascular permeability factor (VPF) (proteinaceous) was later identified to be the same as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which promotes angiogenesis of cancer tissues as well. These mediators cross-talk or co-upregulate each other, such as BK-NO-PGs system. Therefore, vascular permeability observed in solid tumor may reflect the other side of the coin (angiogenesis). The vascular permeability and accumulation of plasma components in the interstitium described here is applicable for predominantly macromolecules (molecular weight, Mw>45 kDa), but not for low molecular compounds as most anticancer agents are. Macromolecular compounds (e.g., albumin, transferrin) or many biocompatible water-soluble polymers show this effect. Furthermore, they are not cleared rapidly from the sites of lesion (cancer/inflammatory tissue), thus, remain for prolonged time, usually for more than a few days. This phenomenon of "enhanced permeability and retention effect" observed in cancer tissue for macromolecules and lipids is coined "EPR effect", which is now widely accepted as a gold standard for anticancer drug designing to seek more cancer-selective targeting using macromolecular drugs. Consequently, drastic reduction of the systemic side effect is observed, while the macromolecular drugs will continuously exert antitumor activity. Other advantages of macromolecular drugs are also discussed.

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